Friday, July 13, 2018

Human Bodies: It's Just a Shoulder... No It's Not


The following article is going to get all anatomical. For those who are waiting for my Part 2 about Females and Combat Training, this is not it, you are just going to have to wait. This article will be addressing some of the parts of the body which we assume that we all know about, but actually do not know as much as they thought. In my case, it was necessary that I learn about these things due to various medical conditions and to understand how to maximise my abilities. Another important thing, I do not have any sort of medical degree or medical training, I just want to point out some stuff that people may not realise.

So, you are fencing away with a friend and you get hit in the area around your shoulder. To be more precise, a couple of inches inside where the ball-joint of your shoulder is. According to SCA rules that is a "killing blow" and you are out, it may not be according to other rules. This discussion will examine why this shot would most likely be a killing blow in the period in which swords were most prevalent, but before this we are going to have a look at breathing.

Human lungs showing lobes

Your average adult does not utilise all of their lungs when they breathe. In fact they only utilise about 66% of their lungs when they breathe. This is because they have not learnt how to use all of the upper lobes of the lungs. Lobes? Ok, so the lungs are divided into five lobes, three on the right and two on the left. For the most part people are content to use all of their middle and lower lobes and some of their upper lobes.

This means that they are not utilising nor gaining all of the advantage of their lungs. Of course to gain access to these extra parts of the lungs takes practice. One way to access part of them is to lift your arms above your head and place your hands on top of your head. Sportsmen do this in a passive fashion. People with lung complaints, be it sickness or injury learn to utilise various parts of their lungs due to practice. It takes a lot of concentration.

Lungs and Combat

What has this got to do with the previous conversation about the "shoulder" shot? Well, examining the lungs as they are separate from the body does not help with allowing us to see how they are situated in the body. So, we need to have a look at how the lungs, complete, sit within the body to see how this is going to affect a shot which is made against the torso.
Lungs in the torso
What can be seen in the image is that the lungs actually cover a much wider area that previously thought. Pretty much all that is rib-cage, protects lungs, except for the much lower parts which protect the liver and other parts from the rear. Pay special attention to how close the lung is to the "shoulder" area. This anatomical model does not actually fit the internal structure all that well, but you get the idea. A shot to the "shoulder" has a likelihood of striking the lung. Not a good prognosis for living in the Renaissance period.

"Shoulder" Hit

So, now we will have a closer look at the subclavian area, for this so-called "shoulder" hit and see exactly what can be hit should a weapon strike this area. Even if the lung is not struck the combatant will still be left in a very sorry state.
The right shoulder
What can be seen in this graphic is that the pink area is all lungs and other associated breathing apparatus. The red lines are arteries, i.e. coming from the heart, and the blue lines are veins, coming back to the heart. Just in case you did not know the carotid artery is the one which carries blood to your brain. The subclavian artery is the one which supplies blood to the arm. Needless to say if any of these are struck the combatant would be in real trouble.


Much more could be said on this subject, but it was designed to simply point out some elements of note for people to understand. Breathing exercises will improve the efficiency of your lung use and will enable you to fence longer. It is also a useful skill to have in case you are not able to use some part of your chest or lungs due to illness or injury. Talk to a medical professional or physiotherapist or someone similar about breathing exercises, you can only try them and find out.

This has been a very brief anatomy lesson with regard to the lungs and the shoulder. There are other systems which are damaged when the shoulder is struck by a sword, such as nerves and muscles, however to keep this a little more succinct I decided to go for the elements which would have the greatest impact. When fencing, consider what you are fencing with and what the actual impact of a real weapon of that kind would do to the part of the body that just got struck. For starters, it will help improve your defense and that can only be a good thing. Hopefully it will also make you really appreciate the martial side of the combats you are involved in. [Edited: Thanks Beth Tobin for the correction about the number of lobes and their location]